Music Review 2012: Part 3 – New Country and Country Roots
Country music and rock are now merging more than ever with great success. Eric Montfort takes a look at the achievements of young country stars in 2012 but also shows the veterans are still having their say.
Over the past few years, country music has become more rock-oriented and 2012 was no exception. By and large, such a shift towards rock oriented songs has irked traditional country music lovers in many ways. Those close to, or above 60 will never accept such changes, and will not take lightly what Toby Keith or Keith Urban have been doing. Yet, this is the way forward for country, as it may also be the only country music style that would appeal to young people. Last year, it was a very good year for many such young talents, who for fairness’ sake, have also made it a point to acknowledge traditional country in some of their songs. It was a great year for Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Josh Turner, Eric Church and of course, Taylor Swift.
In just four years, Taylor Swift, who is only 24, has become an institution in country music. The Pennsylvania native has sold out tours in the USA and Europe and is one of the few country artistes to have lately made the UK albums and singles charts. She is also one of the few country artistes to perform sold-out shows at big venues, notably London’s Wembley Arena, something that Dolly Parton was not able to achieve when she was 24. In 2012, when it came to album sales, Swift remained the queen of country. Her latest album, Red (Big Machine), has so far sold 1.2 million first-week copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Luke Bryan was the best seller in the US singles’ charts and his album Tailgates and Tanlines is still selling well, three years since its release. Fellow Georgia native Jason Aldean, who has also lately toured with Luke Bryan, also had a good year with his album Night Train. Lady Antebellum are also another respected outfit in country music. They too are among the few new country talents who have sold encouragingly abroad. Last year, their album Own The Night made considerable cross-over success in the USA and world-wide. Their success also highlights a shift in country music’s power centre. Nashville remains country music’s capital, and Texas has kept its strong country, alt-country, Texas swing and tex-mex appeal. California’s popularity has waned although country rock inflexions from The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and a few others still remain influential. However, now one must watch out for Georgia. It has long been a hive of country music activity, yielding some great names. Luke Bryan, two members from Lady Antebellum and Jason Aldean all hail from the Peach State. So do Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt, Trisha Yearwood and Zac Brown. The latter had another solid year with their album Uncaged and Goodbye In Her Eyes, a single which is currently number one in the US Country Albums Charts.
If there is to be a song that really proves how close rock and country have come, then look no further than Eric Church Springsteen, a tribute to The Boss. This was arguably a good song but the same cannot be said about many other young stars who seem to just mix rock with country without coming up with a viable, good melody. Time and again, songs by Carrie Underwood, Toby Keith and even Taylor Swift sound disjointed. The real country rock lies with the so-called Americana movement which has spawned many articulate talents over the years. This year marked the return of Iris Dement, the Avett Brothers, Rosie Flores, Old Crow Medicine Show, Bonnie Bishop, Tift Merritt, Jamie Johnston and Jason Izbell among the bright young sparks. All of these talents spawned some really good albums. On the other hand, veteran talents Bonnie Raitt, Dwight Yoakham, Buddy Miller (with Jim Lauderdale) and Wanda Jackson also released some really good albums.
It is significant that Wanda Jackson who turned 75 last October kept rocking with Unfinished Business. Here was an album that retained her rockabilly, and country rock, as well as gospel influences. The Queen of Rockabilly is still youthful, and versatile besides retaining some good old country school charms, without sounding cheaply sentimental. Besides, good old genuine country school songmaster, 65-year old Bill Staines released the album Beneath Some Lucky Star and managed once more to show his baritonal abilities; he projected them with an ease and passion that only dedicated, veteran talents like himself can do. He also exuded a dose of freshness that not everyone, whether a newcomer or a veteran can do.